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Oat Cake with Blueberries and Blackberries

10 Jun

Just two days ago, I graduated high school. My classmates and I wore white dresses and held bouquets, walked down an aisle to an outdoor stage (sounds like a wedding, doesn’t it?), and waited anxiously to receive our diplomas. During stressful moments and late-night study sessions, I vividly imagined this day in my mind, maybe even counted down to it. Now that toasts have been made and achievements celebrated, it hasn’t sunk in yet that I will not return as a student to the place where I spent the past six years of my life.

Picking blackberries from my backyard garden.

Change is a funny sensation, because transitioning from one chapter of your life to the next never feels the way you imagined it would. I thought it would be easy to say goodbye and look forward to entering college, but this past month has been incredibly bittersweet. 

How do I thank my amazing teachers and advisors, my peers, and my family members for all they’ve done to help me grow? How do I prepare for a completely new environment filled with thousands of unfamiliar faces, historic buildings, and dorm life? Well, for right now, I’m focused on savoring the moment. I want to let my experiences come naturally rather than always look ahead or to the past. I plan to spend this summer doing what I am passionate about; no strings attached. 

Obviously baking ranks high on my list of passions. Which leads me to this cake. A cinnamon-scented oat cake filled with ripe, seasonal berries. The top is crunchy from a sprinkling of turbinado sugar, but has a soft, tender crumb on the inside. I love the cake’s rustic simplicity, because during this time of year it’s all about allowing the produce to shine. 

Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart Living, July 2013

4 tblsp unsalted butter, softened 
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for pan 
1 cup plus 3 tblsp quick-cooking oats, divided 
2/3 cup water 
1/2 tsp baking soda 
1/2 tsp baking powder 
3/4 tsp coarse salt 
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar 
1 large egg 
1 tsp vanilla extract 
2 cups mixed ripe blueberries and blackberries 
3 tblsp coarse sanding sugar (turbinado sugar) 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Butter and flour an 8-inch square metal baking pan, tapping out excess flour. Combine 1 cup oats and water and let stand until oats have softened, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and beat in egg and vanilla until just combined, scraping down sides of bowl if necessary. Add flour and oat mixtures and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Do not overmix. Gently fold in about half of the berries.

3. Spread batter in pan and sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons oats and sanding sugar. Scatter remaining berries evenly over top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes before serving. It’s best served on the day of.

Chocolate-Coconut Sheet Cake

21 Jan

When I walked into the library on Friday, I spotted the February issue of Martha Stewart Living on the magazine shelf, and decided to actively procrastinate for a few minutes. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I stumbled upon the Valentine’s Day, all-chocolate dessert spread. Imagine a page covered in silky chocolate, entitled “Truly Madly Deeply,” staring at you as you prepare to buckle down and write an English self-assessment- now that’s a real distraction. But I couldn’t resist the temptation to peruse the recipes, and this chocolate-coconut sheet cake immediately caught my attention. I’m sure you can guess how I ended up spending my Friday night. 😉

Chocolate and coconut are two of my favorite ingredients, and together, well the photo speaks for itself. This is the moistest, most deeply chocolatey cake I have ever made. Buttermilk and brewed coffee are key, and premium Dutch-process cocoa powder accounts for the cake’s rich, almost midnight black color. Taste-wise, every bite is straight out of dessert heaven. Each forkful contains three layers: wisps of tender coconut shavings on top, the fudgey, almost gooey center, and the phenomenal, aromatic cake. I probably sound a bit strange as I passionately describe this baked good as though it has a life of its own, but it’s the weekend before mid-terms, and what’s a girl with a sweet tooth to do? 

Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart Living

For the cake:
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*, plus more for dish 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 
1 1/2 tsp baking soda 
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt 
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk**
3/4 cup warm, strong brewed coffee
3 tblsp safflower oil (I used olive oil)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 

For the topping:
1 stick plus 2 tblsp unsalted butter
2 cups confectioners’ sugar 
6 tblsp unsweetened cocoa powder 
3 cups finely shredded, dried, unsweetened coconut
2/3 cup warm, strong brewed coffee 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; line the bottom and two long sides with parchment, leaving an overhang. Butter parchment, and dust with cocoa powder. Sift together cocoa powder, flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; whisk to combine. Gather flour mixture into a mound, and create a well in center. Pour eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil, and vanilla into well, and whisk until thoroughly combined and smooth. Pour batter into dish, and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Bake until set, about 25 minutes. Even if the center looks a bit fudgey, it will continue cooking once you remove it from the oven. It is key not to overcook it. 
2. To make the topping, melt butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Sift confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, and coconut in a large bowl; combine with a spoon. Stir coffee and vanilla into melted butter, and pour over coconut mixture. Stir to combine, and immediately spread evenly over warm cake. Let the cake cool completely on wire rack.

*I recommend using Dutch-process cocoa powder, if you wish to achieve a darker color and richer chocolate flavor. However, natural cocoa works fine as well. Here is a link to a photo that demonstrates the contrast between a cake made with Dutch-process versus natural cocoa. David Lebovitz also has a wonderfully detailed post that explains the differences between the two kinds. 
**If you do not have buttermilk on hand, not to worry! You can make your own simply by measuring out 3/4 cup of milk and adding the juice from half a lemon to it. Let the milk sit for a few minutes until it curdles on the top, and you are ready to go. 

Easy Chocolate Pecan Torte

4 Jan

Recipe courtesy of Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts 

1 cup raw pecans 
2 tblsp all-purpose flour 
6 oz bittersweet chocolate (66 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped 
8 tblsp unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into chunks 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
Generous 1/8 tsp salt 
4 cold large eggs 

Serves 10-12

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan with butter. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and bake them for 7-10 minutes, stirring them once or twice, until they are toasted and fragrant. Scrape the nuts onto a plate and let them cool completely. Increase the oven temperature to 375. Once the nuts have cooled, pulse the pecans and the flour in the food processor until finely ground. 
2. Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl, over a pot of simmering water, and stir occasionally until nearly melted. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir the chocolate until it is completely melted and smooth. 
3. Transfer the chocolate into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and beat in the butter, granulated sugar, and salt until the butter is completely melted and the mixture thickens and lightens slightly in color. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat at medium-high speed for a minute or two, or until the batter is fluffy and lightened in color. Stir in the pecan mixture. 
4. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted about 1.5 inches from the side of the pan comes out clean. The center will still be gooey. 
5. Set the pan on a rack to cool. Slide a thin knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake and allow the thin crust on top to sink (slightly) as the cake cools. Let cool completely and remove from the pan. Garnish with powdered sugar or whipped cream, if desired. The torte can be kept covered at room temperature for at least 3 days, or frozen, well-wrapped for 3 months.

I am well aware that this luxurious chocolate-pecan torte recipe comes to you at the beginning of “clean eating” month. In January, many of us embark upon kale juice cleanses and grueling gym workouts in an effort to start the new year on the right foot. But this is a baking blog after all, and I could not wait to share this decadent, sinfully easy dessert. 

You only need seven ingredients to throw this torte together. You could substitute hazelnuts or walnuts for pecans and omit the flour for a gluten-free version. The exterior surface crackles just barely after baking, contrasting well with the moist, but not sticky interior. My problem with so many chocolate tortes is their uniformity of flavor and denseness. This cake hit all the right notes: chocolatey but with depth of flavor from the pecans, and sturdy but not dry. It is definitely a crowd pleaser; my family members enthusiastically declared it one of the best baked goods I have ever made. Major score! 

I recommend preparing the cake a day prior to serving it as the extra time enhances its richness. I enjoyed my piece plain, a chocolate purist, but vanilla bean ice cream or freshly whipped cream would complement it beautifully.

Pumpkin Coffee Cake with Pecan-Brown Sugar Streusel

4 Nov

This is not just any pumpkin cake. This Pumpkin Coffee Cake with Pecan-Brown Sugar Streusel is the first baked good I have made since submitting my first college application; and boy, did it taste sweet. Applying to college is like watching an action film: one moment you are energized and hopeful, a second later you become massively overwhelmed, and by the time the movie’s over, you’re so drained all you want to do is sleep. What better way to celebrate this whirlwind experience than with a little baking therapy? 

I baked slowly and leisurely, enjoying every moment of my return to the kitchen after a long separation. Spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger and sprinkled with toasted pecans, this cake embodies fall flavors. The batter is perfectly moist with a pumpkin taste that is present but not overpowering. My favorite part of any coffee cake is the buttery crumb topping. This cake has not just one, but two layers of nutty, sugary streusel, which means double the goodness. Cut into generous wedges and served with a cup of coffee, it makes a wonderful breakfast or afternoon snack. I particularly enjoy sneaking into the kitchen and nibbling on it sliver-by-sliver.

Recipe slightly adapted from Home Baked Comfort 

For the streusel:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour 
1/2 cup light brown sugar 
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
Pinch of kosher salt 
5 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks 
1 cup pecan pieces, lightly toasted for 10 minutes at 325 degrees F 

For the batter: 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
2 tsp baking powder 
1/2 tsp baking soda 
2 tsp ground cinnamon 
1 tsp ground ginger 
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg 
1/2 tsp kosher salt 
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
1 cup light brown sugar 
2 large eggs 
1 cup pumpkin puree 
1/2 cup sour cream 

For the glaze:
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted 
2 tsp milk 
1 tsp vanilla extract 

Makes one 9-inch coffee cake.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan or a 9-inch cake pan with 3-inch sides. To make the streusel, in a medium bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add the cubes of butter and, using a pastry cutter or fork, break down the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the toasted pecans. 
2. To make the batter, in a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the pumpkin puree and sour cream and mix to combine. Add the flour mixture in thirds, incorporating on low speed. The batter will be quite thick.
3. Spread half of the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle half of the streusel over the batter. Spread the remaining batter over the streusel and top with the remaining streusel. 
4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 50-55 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove the sides from the pan and slide the cake onto the rack. 
5. To make the glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake. 

An Elegant Layer Cake For My Two-Year Blogiversary

8 Sep

Recipe courtesy of The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories 

For the Genoise: 
2 oz. unsalted butter
6 eggs 
7 oz. sugar 
7.5 oz. all-purpose flour

For the hazelnut meringue: 
2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted 
3 large egg whites at room temperature
Pinch of sea salt 
1/8 tsp cream of tartar 
1/2 cup sugar

For the buttercream:
2 eggs
1 cup sugar 
1/2 cup water 
1/8 tsp cream of tartar 
2 sticks butter 
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the salted caramel chocolate ganache:
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 oz. 70% bittersweet chocolate, chopped 
3 tblsp water 
3/4 cup sugar 
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, heated 
1 1/2 tblsp unsalted butter, at room temperature 
1 tsp vanilla extract 
3/4 tsp sea salt 

For the simple syrup: 
1 cup sugar 
1/2 cup water 
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean

1. To make the meringue: preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On the parchment, outline circles of your cake pan with a pen. 
2. Place the toasted hazelnuts in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on high speed until soft peaks form. Stream in the sugar and beat until the egg whites are stiff. Gently fold the ground hazelnuts into the egg whites. 
3. Scoop the egg whites into a pastry bag and pipe meringue circles using the outlines on the parchment paper. Bake the meringues for 1 to 1.5 hours, rotating the pan half way through, until they are crisp. Allow the meringues to cool on the baking sheet for three hours. 
4. To make the Genoise: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt the butter and set aside. Place the eggs and sugar in a stand mixer bowl and place the bowl over a double boiler. Whisk the mixture by hand until it is hot to the touch. Place the bowl on the mixer equipped with a whisk attachment and beat the eggs until they almost surpass the bowl in height. Add the melted butter and whisk to combine. 
5. Pour the mixture into a large bowl and sift the flour into the mixture in three parts, folding each time until just combined. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper and grease the sides with butter. Pour the batter into the cake pan, leaving out any clumps of flour from the bottom of the bowl that weren’t mixed in. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 
6. To make the buttercream: Whip the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer until they triple in volume. While the eggs are whipping away, place the sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a saucepot and bring to a heavy boil. With the mixer on medium speed, pour the sugar syrup over the eggs in a slow, steady stream. Continue beating for 10-15 minutes, or until the bowl cools to room temperature. Add the butter one pat at a time until the cream thickens. Add the vanilla extract and turn the mixture to high speed for the final 2 minutes.
7. To make the salted caramel chocolate ganache: Stir together the sugar and water in a medium heavy saucepan until the sugar is moistened. Heat on medium-high, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Stop stirring and allow the syrup to boil undisturbed until it turns deep amber (370 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant read thermometer.) Remove it from the heat and slowly and carefully stir in the hot cream. It will bubble up furiously.

8. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to stir the mixture gently, scraping down to the bottom of the pan. Return the pan to very low heat, continuing to stir gently for 1 minute, or until the mixture is uniform in color and the caramel is fully dissolved. Remove pan from the heat and gently stir in the butter until incorporated. Pour the hot caramel sauce onto the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. By the time all of the caramel has been added, the chocolate will be melted and the mixture will be smooth and shiny. Add the vanilla and the salt and mix to combine.
9. Scrape ganache into a bowl and let stand uncovered for 1 hour then cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for two more hours, until firm enough to spread as a filling and frosting.
10. To make the simple syrup: Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan and scrape in the vanilla bean seeds. Remove from the heat. 
11. To assemble: Using a serrated knife, split the Genoise in half lengthwise. Using a pastry brush, soak the cake in enough simple syrup just to moisten it- do not make it soggy. On top of the first cake layer, place a dollop of buttercream and spread evenly until it is about half an inch in height. Stick the cooled meringue circle over the buttercream layer. On top of the meringue, spread a half inch layer of chocolate ganache. Place the second Genoise layer over the chocolate ganache and soak with simple syrup. Top the cake with another layer of ganache. Optional: finish by spreading buttercream on the sides of the cake and stick ground hazelnuts on the buttercream for decoration. 

          Two whole years have passed since I first launched this blog and what a journey it has been. I have traveled to new and exciting destinations, visited amazing bakeries from around the world, and created a few memorable treats in my own kitchen. I have epitomized my motto and lived life one bite at a time. So, what better way to celebrate the occasion than with a decked-out layer cake? 
          It’s been a while since a layer cake graced the front page of Let’s Live La Vida and in many ways, the differences between the two posts reflect my overall growth as a blogger. My palette has become more refined and I have become a more skilled and daring baker. By observing experts and learning from them, I feel more comfortable and at ease in the kitchen. This intricate layer cake demonstrates my development from a novice baker to someone who knows what she’s doing (most of the time). 
          Genoise, a plain, subtly dry cake forms the anchor of this recipe. Genoise is designed to be soaked in simple syrup and layered with fabulous fillings as it does not possess much flavor on its own. Every bite contains a medley of distinct tastes and textures that blend seamlessly together. The rich salted caramel chocolate ganache complements the nuttiness of the hazelnut meringue and the fluffy vanilla buttercream ties the three together.
          Chocolate and hazelnut aren’t your favorites? Not to worry, Genoise can be endlessly adapted to suit your personal preferences. Soak it with coconut simple syrup and cover the sides with coconut buttercream and toasted coconut flakes for a divine coconut cake. Take advantage of summer’s trickling stone fruits by layering it with poached peaches and whipped cream and sprinkling the top with sliced almonds. Tweak the recipe proportions for a sheet pan, slice clean square pieces, and you have a lovely opera cake. 
          I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try this cake. When you do, stick some imaginary candles on it and celebrate Let’s Live La Vida’s second birthday with me.